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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the thousands of people living in the Panhandle area of Florida, dealing with Hurricane Dennis that made landfall the afternoon of July 10 and the aftermath left in its path was far too reminiscent of what they’d gone through less than a year earlier during the 2004 hurricane season with Ivan. If there was some good news for some residents, especially those in Pensacola, after Category 3 Dennis made its exit by the end of the day it was that Dennis had been downgraded from a Category 4 by the time it made landfall. In addition, unlike Ivan which dropped a lot of rain and caused major flooding, Dennis will be better remembered for the force of its winds, albeit destructive in many ways. On Monday, July 11, the Florida Credit Union League got to work setting up a toll-free phone system, a special voice mail procedure that allows credit unions to use the system to communicate with their staff and keep members apprised of the status of operations at their credit union. By dialing a special toll-free number which FCUL assigns, each credit union’s members can call that number for updates from their credit union on service or any other special instructions. According to the League, once the number is assigned to a CU, the next step is to have any messages recorded for the messaging system. A credit union would subsequently forward its messages to the Florida League and the messages in turn will get posted on the system, as well as the League’s Web site League VP Marketing and Communications Mark Ivester said the League implemented the system last year when Category 4 Hurricane Charley started churning up in the Gulf in August. The League had recently installed a new phone system that Ivester said gave the League the capacity to add on 99 mailboxes. At one point last year Ivester said 15 credit unions took advantage of the system. After Hurricane Dennis, the toll-free phone system allowed the FCUL to provide regular updated status reports from affected credit unions. Although at press time it was still early in the damage assessment phase after Dennis, the Florida League said early reports from area credit unions showed they didn’t suffer any substantial structural damage. “So far what we can determine is nobody is down for the count,” said Ivester after assessing early reports that came in from credit unions in Escambia County including Santa Rosa County. As of 4:45 p.m. July 22, the League had heard from 22 CUs. Of those, 17 were operational. In addition: ECCO CU reported no power or communications and expected to reopen July 14; Members First CU of Florida had no power at its main office, one branch was operating on its computer system and another was operating manually; Pensacola Government FCU was operating on generator power; Gulf Winds FCU reported some of its branches were operating regular hours and others on limited hours; Santa Rosa County FCU’s main office is operating on three generators. “We were fortunate that Dennis moved through so fast. Anyway, after all the damage Hurricane Ivan did last year, there wasn’t much left for Dennis,” said Ivester, adding that the fact that the Category 3 storm hit on the weekend meant “a lot of credit unions were closed anyway.” Patti Wernicki, president, Escambia County Employees CU agreed with Ivester and added that the area lucked out thanks to Tropical Storm Cindy which made landfall just west of Pensacola a few days earlier. Meteorologists say that earlier storm probably cooled the water temperatures in the Gulf and contributed to the diminishing of the initial projected intensity of Dennis – hurricanes feed on warm water temperatures to gather strength. “We learned from our experiences last year and took preventative measures this year in anticipation of Dennis,” said Wernicki. That included stuffing plastic banquet tablecloths around the CU’s door and windows and then covering those with sandbags both inside and outside the CU. “With Ivan last year it was a lot worse. When we looked outside the building then, you saw visible signs of damage including fascia torn off the roof and a lot of debris. Now the major roads are passable, and thanks to the miracle of sandbags we didn’t sustain much water damage inside the credit union,” said Wernicki. -

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